Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Sound of Queer Music 2014, Vol. 4

In this four-part, end-of-the-year series, I'm featuring sixteen queer artists or bands that fucked with the heteronormative cultural bias in 2014.

Volume 4 is probably, mostly and sometimes totally NSFW (Not Safe For Work). Seriously.

Dominic Fournier (AKA Abeardedboy)
He's featured in Holopaw's video for "Dirty Boots" (below)

Queen Mimosa 3. That's the pseudonym chosen by French photographer and musician Jonathan Icher. No, I couldn't find an explanation for the number 3.  Beyond describing his gender as "neutral" on his Facebook page, there's not much information about him out there at all -- even though this persona has been around since 2009 (his first album, So Sexy, includes a song called "You Fuck Like a Dog"). However, if you speak/read French you can probably learn a little more from the handful of interviews he's given. If you'd like to see his amazing photography, go here. Nothing about this guy will leave you indifferent. Trust me.

Queen Mimosa 3 (photo: Jonathan Icher)
Song & Video: "Petit Chat." The name translates in English to small cat or kitten. It's a burst of electropop insanity -- sung in French. Lyrically, it appears to have something to do with how much easier it is to be feline. Directed by Icher himself, the video is a boisterous, demented parody of stuff that generates buzz on the net -- you know, cats or sexy men and women dancing. Lots of half-naked folks here, great beards, crazy costumes, some cats and -- trigger alert! -- a couple of big spiders. And twerking. Also, the lyrics are translated into Japanese at the bottom of the screen.

Cazwell. Real name: Luke Caswell. He's been making music since the late '90s, but probably made his first big impression about a decade ago with an explicit dance release entitled "All Over Your Face." A mashup of hip-hop, dance and electropop, some people have described what he does as "homo hop." Whatever it is, Cazwell does it with irreverence, defiant vulgarity and a wicked sense of humor. Visit his website here. His Facebook page is here.

Cazwell (photo: Athena Maroulis)
Song & Video: "Hot Homo" featuring Big Dipper (A Freestyle Parody of Bobby Shmurda's "Hot N*gga"). A little background: In 2014, rapper Bobby Shmurda released a popular debut single called "Hot Nigga." It's one of those aggressive rap songs about guns and drugs and murder that scares the shit out of white people... for some reason that's never been clear to me. Enter Cazwell and queer bear rapper Big Dipper. They've created a freestyle (and dirty) rap parody that hilariously subverts Shmurda's swagger. (If you want to see the inspiration for this parody, here's the video. Yeah, it's seriously not safe for work either.)

Adore Delano. That's the drag persona created by Danny Noriega, an American Idol semi-finalist (2008) and season 6 contestant on RuPaul's Drag Race. According to a recent Facebook post, she personally regards herself as "a musician in drag." Post Drag Race, she released an album, Till Death Do Us Party -- it peaked at number one on the Billboard Dance/Electronic music chart. So yeah, that musician-in-drag thing is working out pretty good for her so far.

Adore Delano (photo: Magnus Hastings)
Song & Video: "DTF." Just so you know, DTF Stands for "down to fuck. Here's what Delano told The Huffington Post upon the song's release last summer: "I always wanted to create a hoodrat raunchy song. 'DTF' is grimy, pop, hood shit. I'm really excited because the sound is unlike anything else out there." Well, okay. All I know is that it's hard to resist a song with lyrics like, "Everybody get some cherry candy yum yum." Simultaneously silly and provocative, the video is a gloriously garish and terrifically photographed blast. (BTW, the sweaty guy prominently featured here is model Max Emerson. You can follow him on Instagram here. You're welcome.)

Holopaw. Despite having been around since 1997, this is the year I finally (and thankfully) discovered this indie band from Gainesville, Florida. It's fronted by openly queer vocalist John Orth, the lineup has fluctuated over the years but currently consists of Orth, twin brothers Patrick and Ryan Quinney, Jeff McCullen and Matt Radick. Orth's sometimes tremulous voice and his unique approach to songwriting create a sound that doesn't fit easily into any musical category. It's genteel, but sometimes eerie... evocative, but also a little off-kilter. Holopaw's latest release -- Academy Songs, Part 1 -- is available on Amazon; their previous albums are on iTunes.

John Orth (via tumblr)

Song & Video: "Dirty Boots." Really, you should just read the lyrics yourself...

He don't hang around no more
He don't wear those dirty old black boots no more
He don't
He don't switchblade like he did before
He don't drift like the virgin snow
If I could be anything in this world that shines
I would be a switchblade pressed hotly against your thigh
At the top of the stairs like a pink kimono hanging over the rails
He didn't notice
He was taking in the smoke like a French inhaler with his headphones on
He had a beautiful tiger painted on his arm but he can't remember where it came from
No, he can't quite recall the other marks on his body, how they got there either
There were daggers drawn on his skin with a magic marking pen
Lines were bruisy, stance was woozy and his head hung low

Holopaw hired Brooklyn-based filmmaker Adam Baran to create a video. It opens with a short narration by legendary (and semi-reclusive) '70s gay porn star Peter Berlin (Nights in Black Leather), and it stars tumblr sensation Abeardedboy. According to director Baran, "the video follows a sexually-charged day in the life a a gay biker gang in Brooklyn. They awake in a tangle of leather, then suit up and ride to an underground sex club to initiate new members. Boundaries are pushed, but the boys find love, family and the unexpected." So, it's like the most adult Disney move ever made. (Let me remind you again: This is not safe for work or your conservative relatives that watch Fox News.)


Something sweet, sexy and sensual from Matt Alber... "Handsome Man." 

Matt Alber (left) and his beau
This cut from his 2014 release, Wind Sand Stars, is a gentle love song to an adored partner. Alber finds the right romantic notes and wears his gay heart on his sleeve here. The video: two men wake up together and spend their morning in a bubble of profound affection. It's photographed with a surprising intimacy that almost makes you feel like you're eavesdropping.

Wanna see the first three blogs in this series? Volume 1 is here, Volume 2 is here and Volume 3 is here. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Sound of Queer Music 2014, Vol. 3

In this four-part, end-of-the-year series, I'm featuring sixteen queer artists or bands that fucked with the heteronormative cultural bias in 2014.

Wiz Kilo, one of the queer artists that flourished in 2014 (photo: Tristan Harris)
The first four appear in Volume 1 -- here; Volume 2 is here. These four made the cut for Volume 3...

Wiz Kilo. This singer/songwriter/producer/dancer was born in Syria. His family immigrated to Canada when he was 5 years old. By 18 he was part of a Canadian boy band called 2Much, where he was given the name "Wiz" -- his real name is Wissam. Kilo released a couple of solo EPs, but his first full-length album didn't arrive until 2014. Jungle Disco is an excellent electro/hip hop/R&B recording that he wrote, recorded, engineered and mixed himself. Visit his website here.

Wiz Kilo (photo: Tristan Harris)
Song & Video: "Warmbody." It's a sinuous electro groove about yearning, desire, sex... and the reality that sometimes we just need a warm body. The song itself is actually over 7 minutes (it's available on iTunes and Amazon), but Kilo serves up an abbreviated version for this video, a minimalist affair in which he expertly (and half-nakedly) grooms his beard and buzzes his head. It's  sort of an inexplicably erotic tutorial. Doesn't hurt that Kilo is a cute, sexy fella.

Stereogamous. This Australian duo, DJs Paul McDermott and Jonny Seymour (AKA Paul Mac and Seymour Butz) have remixed or collaborated with a long list of artists -- Kylie Minogue, George Michael, Sia, The Presets and LCD Soundsystem, to name a few. According to their Facebook page, their particular genre of music is "bath house." It's also been described as "music for making out" and "horizontal dance music." I'm especially fond of Jonny Seymour's philosophy: "Age should be no barrier to the pleasures of dance music. The sense of freedom it brings shouldn't be limited to the young." You can find a stream of their mixes and collaborations here.

Left to right: Paul McDermott, Shaun J Wright (a recent collaborator) & Jonny Seymour
Song & Video: "Sweat," featuring Shaun J Wright. The song, a collaboration with Shaun J Wright, is kind of sleazy and provocative. There's some disco-tech erotica up in the house. Uh huh. The video? Shaun J Wright (he doesn't use a period after that middle initial) and a big ole bearded glitterbear will entertain you. They don't call Stereogamous super gay for nothing.

Bright Light Bright Light. That's Welsh, London-based electropop artist Rod Thomas. The Guardian summed up his 2014 album, Life is Easy, like this: "... combines euphoric melodies, lavish electronics and unabashed pop in a way that showcases his songwriting skills." He's not particularly cool, but he's hard to resist.

Bright Light Bright Light, AKA Rod Thomas (photo: Adrian Tuazon McCheyne)
Song & Video: "Everything I Ever Wanted," featuring The Pink Singers. This is a fresh take of a song featured on his Life is Easy album. He re-recorded it with London's longest-running LGBT choir, The Pink Singers, for 2014 World AIDS Day. A percentage of the sales go to The Elton John AIDS Foundation. It was already a great song; the background choir and effusive arrangement give it a spiritual quality. The lovely video is about the simple joys of childhood friendship.

Against Me! This rousing punk band's been around since 1997, fronted by vocalist/guitarist Tom Gabel. Having dealt with gender dysphoria (feeling strongly that you are not the gender you physically appear to be) since childhood, Gabel came out as transgender in 2012, then transitioned to Laura Jane Grace. Against Me! released their first album with Grace as lead singer in January 2014. Entitled Transgender Dysphoria Blues, many critics hailed it as one of the year's best. It kicks ass.

Left to right: Inge Johansson, James Bowman, Laura Jane Grace & Atom Willard
Song & Video: "Black Me Out." It's intense, brutal and vitriolic for sure. Laura Jane Grace sounds like she had a few things to get off her chest when she wrote it. In the chorus, Grace sings, "I want to piss on the walls of your house." Well, come on, haven't we all felt that way a time or two? Stark and straightforward, this is a gritty video that gets the job done. (Note: Some lyrics are not safe for work.)

If you'd care to see an earlier incarnation of Against Me! with Tom Gabel, go here.

Check out Volume 1 in this series here -- it features Magic Mouth, The 2 Bears, Conchita Wurst and Mary Lambert.

Volume 2 is here, featuring Hercules & Love Affair with John Grant, Angel Haze, MRF (Mike Flanagan) and Logan Lynn.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Sound of Queer Music 2014, Vol. 2

In this four-part, end-of-the-year series, I'm featuring sixteen queer artists or bands that fucked with the heteronormative cultural bias in 2014. The first four appear in Volume 1 -- find that blog here. These four made the cut for Volume 2...

Hercules & Love Affair featuring John Grant.  Formed in 2004, Hercules & Love Affair is a collaborative disco-house project from DJ Andy Butler that features a rotating cast of musicians and vocalists. Yup, there's disco in Butler's DNA, but the sound is a unique and ambitious revival. For his 2014 album -- The Feast of the Broken Heart -- Butler collaborated with gay singer/songwriter John Grant, inviting him to write some lyrics.

John Grant (left) & Andy Butler (photo: Linda Nylind of The Guardian)

Song & Video: "I Try to Talk to You." Butler recalls of Grant: "He tackled the story of becoming HIV+, and while I mentioned to him that he did not need to go there if he was not comfortable, in that beautifully punky, spirited and courageous way he has about him, he told me that was what the song was going to be about. What came of it is an elegant song featuring John singing and playing his heart out." Serious and haunting, yes, but also a shimmering dance track. The evocative video depicts two men engaged in a lover's quarrel -- all done through an enthralling interpretive dance.

Angel Haze. One of the emerging stars of contemporary rap, she's outspoken and brutally honest about a past that includes childhood sexual abuse and growing up in a cult-like family. Haze describes herself as pansexual and adds, "Love isn't defined by gender." Not even 25 yet, she's kind of amazing for someone who wasn't even allowed to listen to secular music as a kid. Her debut album, Dirty Gold, is flawed but filled with some brilliant moments.

Angel Haze (AKA Raeen Roes Wilson)

Song & Video: "Battle Cry." One of Dirty Gold's strongest tracks, the song is about overcoming a painful past, more specifically her own. The verses are personal, the chorus is killer. The video -- beautifully shot and punctuated by some unsettling imagery -- portrays a highly stylized version of events from her own life. (Heads up: It could be a trigger for folks that have experienced childhood sexual abuse or mistreatment in the name of religion.)

MRF. That's jazz musician Mike Flanagan. He's worked with a diverse range of artists, including Grammy winner Esperanza Spaulding. He first came to my attention in 2013 with the release of an empowering anthem called "Be Strong (LGBT Youth)." In 2014 he independently released his second album -- Mob Music -- and it became the highest-selling jazz album in the country on iTunes within 24 hours. Flanagan, who plays multiple instruments, describes his sound as a hybrid of R&B and jazz. His official website is here.

MRF himself, Mr. Mike Flanagan (photo by Patrick Lentz)

Song & Video: "Trying" featuring Lisa Bello, Justin Waithe & Yasko Kubota. Flanagan humbly calls the song a "radio single." It's really a satisfying and relatable jazz pop groove -- and his trio of vocalists are flawless. Flanagan had this to say about the video (which features himself and another musclebear): "My goal for the narrative of this video was to depict the beauty, as well as the normalcy in love and love-lost as represented by two men." Fans of fur and beefcake will surely find it irresistible.

Logan Lynn. On his Facebook page a few years back, Lynn listed "Sex & Guilt, mostly" as his musical influences. More recently, he's added this: "Whatever. Let's dance." Those things make him sound a lot less serious than he really is. This guy is is a writer, composer, singer, producer, LGBTQ activist and TV personality. Based in Portland, Oregon, Lynn has released seven albums, six EPs and over a dozen music videos. And to me, his voice has has an unpolished, endearing, knowing quality that sounds refreshingly real. His official website is here.

Logan Lynn (photo via his Facebook page)

Song & Video: "We Will Overcome." With this song (to be included on a 2015 album) Lynn departs from his so-called "emotronic" sound, adding fuller instrumentation and bit of country-gospel inflection. In a September interview with Vortex magazine, Lynn (the son of preacher) had to this about the lyrics:

“I wrote ‘We Will Overcome’ as my relationship was ending. I had my heart broken earlier this year, and it felt like these dreams I had for a life and family with this person were just ripped from me. (Dramatic sounding, I know—but it really did feel that way.) I started thinking about how this feeling was something of a pattern in my life and began tracing it back to its beginning, which is my experience in the church as a child. I think the song is about letting go, surviving—living through things that, at times, feel impossible to surmount. Love is a hard thing to lose, and in some ways, you never get over it. I have been grieving that loss, and this song is a mantra for me, both in my personal life and in my experience as someone who is part of a marginalized community. I really do believe that I, that we, will win this battle… whatever it is.”  

This fascinating video, directed by Andrew Carreon and superbly edited, features footage of Lynn as a kind of cowboy preacher intercut with grainy old family film footage (provided by relatives) that offers a glimpse of his pentecostal roots.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Sound of Queer Music 2014, Vol. 1

In this four-part, end-of-the-year series, I'm featuring sixteen queer artists or bands that fucked with the heteronormative cultural bias in 2014.

The first four...

Magic Mouth. According to their website and Facebook page, "Magic Mouth is Church. Is Funk. Is Soul. Is pure Rock 'n' Roll." Their late 2013 debut EP, Devil May Care, supports that statement. Members Chanticleer (vocals), Ana Briselo (drums), Peter Condra (guitar) and Brendan Scott (bass) offer up an incredibly diverse collection of songs with stunning confidence.

Magic Mouth, left to right:
Peter Condra, Chanticleer, Ana Briselo & Brendan Scott
Song & Video: "Mother Lode." It's a soulful, bittersweet, epic ballad -- and a perfect showcase for vocalist Chanticleer. The gorgeous black and white video was shot at Embers, the oldest downtown gay/drag/dance bar in Portland, Oregon. Video co-director Michael Palmieri has since joked. "We sincerely hope that people remember Magic Mouth as the band that made glitter sad."

The 2 Bears. They're two chunky, hairy gentleman (Joe Goddard and Raf Rundell) who don't identify as gay but named themselves after a particular segment of gay subculture anyway. Their musical niche? Updating and celebrating the kind of house music originally popularized in gay clubs. They specialize in emotionally weighty or tongue-in-cheek dancefloor tracks. Can straight guys make queer music? These two bears are your answer.

The 2 Bears: Joe Goddard (left) & Raf Rundell (right)
Song & Video: "Not This Time." I might argue that the song is a modern male variant of Gloria Gaynor's disco kiss-off "I Will Survive" -- the lyrics are just as gender-neutral as Gaynor's signature tune. Rundell (also known as Raf Daddy) takes the lead here, with a voice that sounds like a satisfying pint at your favorite pub. The video features members of London's drag collective Sink the Pink.

Conchita Wurst. In 2011, Austrian-born Tom Neuwirth created a public alter ego, Conchita Wurst. Some would call this a drag persona. With a beard. And then Austria chose Wurst to represent them in 2014's annual Eurovision Song Contest. Protests and homophobic attacks from a handful of countries, like Russia and Belarus, failed to make any difference. In the end, European voters and juries embraced Conchita Wurst and "Rise Like a Phoenix." In scoring, she was way ahead of her closest competition, Netherlands and Sweden. Accepting the win, Wurst declared, "This night is dedicated to everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom -- you know who you are. We are unity. And we are unstoppable." Amen, sister.

Conchita Wurst
Song & Video: "Rise Like a Phoenix." The song sounds like a delicious, old-fashioned James Bond movie theme, circa 1964. Ms. Wurst kinda knocks it out of the park. And this video is a hoot. Edelweiss!

Mary Lambert. On her Facebook page, Lambert describes herself like this: "Singer-songwriter, poet, comfy-bed enthusiast, hella gay. I've got my heart on my sleeve." You may not know her face, but she was the guest vocalist on Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' Grammy-nominated same-sex marriage anthem, "Same Love." Her first full-length CD was released in October 2014. Lambert writes all her own songs, inspired by early childhood traumas and struggles with her body image, bipolar disorder and sexuality. Sure, that sounds like she's going to take you to some pretty dark places, but Lambert transcends angst and grief. Her music is more about empowerment and self-acceptance.

Mary Lambert, courtesy of her Facebook page
Song & Video: "Secrets." The song is a confessional about the kinds of stuff she lives with everyday -- like being overweight, her bipolar disorder and, um, and analog clock. But it's a decidedly upbeat --a remix even peaked at #1 on the Billboard Dance Club chart. Yup. The video is an irresistibly goofy, joyful romp that celebrates Lambert's full-figured life.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Holiday Music Sampler 2014

So this is a thing you can buy. It's called the Santa Beardo Beard Hat Set.

Can't locate your holiday spirit? Here's a gaggle of new holiday tunes. Maybe one will get you there.

Rend Collective. They're a Christian folk rock combo from Bangor, Northern Ireland. I'd never heard of them until their holiday album, Campfire Christmas, was released. There's a kind of irresistible goofball hipster gusto about the way they love the Lord. All their music is available on iTunes. Website is here.

Song & Video: "Joy to the World (You Are My Joy)." This arrangement of the old holiday classic is genuinely fresh, fun and stirring -- it's also my favorite song of the season. Full of deliberately hideous Christmas sweaters, bicycles, angel wings and a singing nutcracker, the video reminds you that some Christians still have a sense of humor.

Idina Menzel & Michael Buble

Song & Video: "Baby, It's Cold Outside." What is there to say? Two great voices breathe new life into a song that's been done to death. The video is cute -- though some may find it dangerously close to cloying because of the kids involved. And if you don't like this, go listen to a dance remix of Menzel's megahit "Let It Go." If that doesn't charm your inner Grinch, nothing will.

Crofts Family. Picture it: Idaho, 1995. Professional musician Vincent Crofts encouraged his daughters to start their own musical journey. They made a tape of Christmas songs for an older brother who was serving a Mormon mission in Brazil. When he returned, the whole family started making music together, but middle daughter Callie went on to a professional music career as an adult. She rallied the family (and her drummer boyfriend) for a 2014 Christmas album, Sparrow in the Birch. It's available on iTunes or downloadable here.

Song & Video: "Sparrow in the Birch." It's an original tune (by Callie Crofts), stunningly arranged and performed -- the harmonizing is crazy good.  Staged on a simple set, the video emphasizes the family, and doesn't get in the way of what they can do.

Band Aid 30. Thirty years ago, a bunch of the UK's biggest musicians formed a supergroup called Band Aid and recorded a charity single to raise money for anti-poverty efforts and famine relief in Ethiopia. The song -- "Do They Know It's Christmas?" -- was successful worldwide, raising about $24 million on its initial release. With its cringe-y lyrics and the occasional sound of someone straining hard to hit a note (seriously, it's the "Star Spangled Banner" of pop singles), this is one of those songs you secretly like even though you know it's not very good.  This new version -- featuring One Direction, Bono, Elbow, Sam Smith, Coldplay's Chris Martin, Seal, Ed Sheeran, Jessie Ware, Ellie Goulding and (kind of surprisingly) Sinead O'Connor -- got a bit of a lyrical makeover (it barely helps), but the voices are stronger and the production is an improvement over the original. This time around they're raising money for the Ebola virus epidemic in Western Africa. (Side note: my absolute favorite thing about this new version is that openly gay Sam Smith sings the lyric that coy-about-his-sexuality-back-then Boy George delivered in the original. Nice choice.)

Sam Smith. He became a household name in 2014 thanks a smash debut single, "Stay With Me" and a chart-topping debut album, In the Lonely Hour. Week's prior to the album's release, Smith opened up about his sexuality: he's gay "...and it's as normal as my right arm."

Song & Video: "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Smith's interpretation of the classic, originally sung by by Judy Garland in the 1944 MGM musical Meet Me in St. Louis, is beautiful, jazzy and tinted with the melancholy of Garland's original recording. It's a beautiful thing --  he's accompanied solely be piano and that velvety voice just fits the song. It's a lower case kind of video -- Smith and his pianist carry it all.

Pentatonix. One of the true musical success stories of the decade, Pentatonix won the third season of NBC's The Sing-Off and created a YouTube page for their homemade videos. The clips went viral fast, a recording contract followed and they just released their second holiday album -- which has the distinction of being the highest-charting Christmas album by a group since 1962. (And two of its members -- Mitch Grassi and Scott Hoying -- are openly gay.)

Song & Video: "Mary, Did You Know?" Written in 1984, the tune has become a perennial, recorded by everyone from Clay Aiken and Reba McEntire to Cee Lo Green and Mary J. Blige. Pentatonix's a cappella/beatbox version is sincere and lovely, with moments that really soar. The video is all faces, candlelight and lens flare. Thankfully, they skipped the fake snow.

Mac Lethal. And now for something completely different -- and not safe for work. He's from Kansas City, Missouri. He's from the hip hop underground. Yes, there's a hip hop underground. His music has charted on the Billboard Top 100 and he posts videos to a wildly popular YouTube channel (full of "therapy, fast raps and drunken rants"). He's smart, cheerfully vulgar and adorable. That's a rare combination, people.

Mac Lethal, AKA David Sheldon
Song & Video: I'm not sure this has a title, exactly, but it's called "Santa Raps SO Fast!!!" on his YouTube channel. Donning a Santa cap, Lethal does in fact rap really, really fast. (Fortunately, he provides subtitles.) And the rapping is not exactly safe for work. You've been warned. Oh, and he may have set some kind of fast-rapping record.

Have a cozy, peaceful holiday season. Or enjoy the madness. Your choice. Carry on.

Peace out,